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“But I never had to study in high school!”

The first test—Anatomy. Rachel, a freshman and an A-B student in high school, approached the class and test just like she has her entire life. She completed the assigned readings, attended every class, and took decent notes. Two days before the test, she memorized her notes. Although the amount of material was much more than typical in high school, on test day she felt comfortable she knew what to expect. Yet, when she received the test, the questions weren’t worded the same way as the text book or her notes. The professor wasn’t simply looking for her to plug-in information; she needed to apply the information to new contexts. She wasn’t prepared for that.

Rachel felt frustrated and betrayed—why didn’t the professor tell the class exactly what was going to be on the test? She didn’t do anything differently than she always had!  After receiving her disappointing grade, Rachel scheduled an appointment with an ARC advisor to discuss her options: Is the grade high enough to allow her to pass the class with a satisfactory grade? Or, should she withdraw from the course and take it a different semester?

The first important round of tests, essays, and grades are here at Bellarmine. In the ARC, we meet a lot of freshmen like Rachel who get shocked by a disappointing grade and confess: “But I never studied in high school!” ARC advisors try to get students focused on the present. They speak to students about why there is a difference between high school and college and assist students once they’re in sticky situations like Rachel’s. They show students how their habits need to change. Your student might call home soon with these academic frustrations; that’s where you as a parent can play a big role. (And, it’s never too early to initiate conversations before a student receives a grade that can be a blow to confidence and GPA!) Talk with your student about what study habits he/she has now; i.e., what might need to change in order to succeed in college.

Here are the three talking points and explanations that parents might find helpful:

1.       How did you study in high school? Did you do your homework at school or set aside specific times and spaces outside school?

For many students, the concept of using their own time to study will be new. In college, time spent in class is much less than in high school; therefore, students will need to develop a study plan with hours (yes, hours) devoted to studying for each class, every week, even weeks when there aren’t tests or homework due. Along with time, space is an important factor. Many students find that getting away from distractions in the Residence Halls or at home and going to the library, classroom, or lab helps to focus their mind on academics instead of recreation or other obligations.

2.       Have you ever been to a tutor? How do you feel about setting up a meeting time with an instructor? How do you feel about organizing a study group?

Many students never asked for extra help in high school—support was built in. Teachers had time during class to talk with students individually and review for tests and quizzes. In college, extra help is still available, but students have to initiate it. Successful students attend free group tutoring in the ARC with their classmates. In addition, successful students maintain relationships outside class with their professors. Professors reserve “office hours” devoted to meeting with their students individually. Professors expect students to meet with them outside class. Most professors also will schedule appointments outside their “official” office hours, so it never hurts to ask (after class or via email) if the professor is available at a certain time. Reassure your son or daughter that seeking out tutors and professors is normal and expected!

3.       How did you keep your grades satisfactory in high school? Are you used to several small assignments or a couple important tests? Did you keep track of your grade or did you rely on updated grades online?

In high school, many teachers assign daily graded homework assignments. Although individual daily assignments do not count for a high percentage of the student’s grade, over time, those points make a significant impact (often a good one, if a student keeps up with it!). Most courses in college have a small number of assignments and tests; so, one grade makes a big impact— positive or negative. This is the reason why it is so important for students to keep up with new material, create practice problems, attend tutoring, and meet with professors during office hours. Finally, most professors do not update grades online, and it is the student’s responsibility to read the syllabus and know how one grade factors in to the overall course grade.

College students are treated as responsible adults, not growing adolescent high schoolers. This explanation can help explain why college professors approach students differently than high school teachers. Professors expect students to take responsibility. Successful students realizes early that that the leap from high school to college is also a leap from making excuses to taking responsibility for one’s choices. Remind your son or daughter that taking responsibility academically is another aspect of the personal freedom he/she enjoys as a college student!Image


About Cassie

I'm the Director of the Writing Center and Director of Parent Communications at Bellarmine University.

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